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Jun 4, 2017 10:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Theater Review: 'Angry Young Man' Is Simply Madcap Genius

Rami Margron, Christopher Daftsios, Nazli Sarpkaya and Max Samuels in
Jun 5, 2017 10:07 AM

Edgy, madcap and brilliant are the words dancing in my thoughts after spending 75 intense and hilarious moments at the John Drew Theater in thrall to four guys in murky tan suits and shiny shoes as they cavort, mime and satirize the immigrant experience, British style.

“Guys” is gender-neutral here because two of them are female, and they in turn all are the “Angry Young Man” of the work’s title—as well as more than a dozen other characters (man, beast and inanimate objects) who interact with the immigrant Yousef of the title. Poor Yousef, from some unnamed Middle Eastern country—a surgeon back in his native land—finds that he is immediately swindled by a cab driver before he is befriended by a bloke named Patrick whose friendship is more than dubious. Thus begins the zaniness that never lets up. Buckle up, you are in for a ride!

The incidents are real enough, but here ruthlessly mined for humor. The target of the wit is not only the unknowing, luckless Yousef—he is the naïf trying to get along—but the upper crust and lower-class Brits, who are far from welcoming. Shades of Brexit to come.

Before long, Yousef will encounter skinheads (he kills one accidentally), hypocritical liberals, a possibly gay nightclub, a stuffy lord of the manor in a dark and dank country house, another immigrant with the nearly unpronounceable name of Gjerg selling this and that to eke out a living, an old Irish woman in Hyde Park who thinks he is accosting her, a xenophobe named Bruno who wants him gone, a sexy flirt named Alison who might or might not be attracted to Yousef … the list goes on with split-second identity changes and story line.

The shifts are so frequent it would require a review too long to tell the story in full—and it would be irrelevant. The genius of this work is not only the wickedly clever writing that surges with the speed of an electric current, but also the bravura performances of the four actors.

There’s not much else on the stage besides them. A seemingly slap-dash set by Frank J. Oliva consists of a tall standing ladder, four stools, a single mic, a stage light, a flash light, backdrops and a spray bottle to emulate soggy British weather. Such an economy of means is used to great effect with Sebastian Paczyniski’s flawless lighting.

Britisher Ben Woolf initially wrote this screwball spoof for himself and his college buddies. A few years later, it premiered at the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009—where it was a hit—and was the winner of the Best Play Award at Australia’s Adelaide Festival in 2013. Our own Steven Hamilton, who in the last few years has directed some stunning shows in East Hampton, brought the work across the pond to off-Broadway’s Urban Stages earlier this spring where it also was a hit. Fortunately for us, he then brought the whole kit and caboodle, actors included, to Guild Hall.

And what actors they are. They appear to be performing extemporaneously—but of course they are not; this is a tightly controlled exhibition of their skill and Mr. Hamilton’s deft direction.

Nazli Sarpkaya, Max Samuels, Rami Margron and Christopher Daftsios start the show before it officially begins nonchalantly by lolling about the stage. In character, Mr. Daftios interacts on and off stage with the audience. If you are not sitting in a tight bunch, you will be encouraged—call it ordered—to move in closer. As at other recent productions at Guild Hall, seating is limited to 75, but this time the audience sits in the hall proper, not on stage. Various props ensure the audience is up close and personal.

A cast comparison to the frenetic antics of Monty Python of recent vintage and the Marx Brothers from an earlier generation is obvious; this talented troupe is right up there with them. The impeccable sound effects of gravel, squeaky rails, ducks, and God-knows-what-else zoom by so fast and are so funny this critic can’t recall them all from one performance.

Everyone is outstanding in their own way—Ms. Magron is especially good at screech, the beanpole Mr. Samuels is delicious as the sexy Alison, Ms. Sarpkaya dies quite vividly (or I think she was dying)—but let me call attention to the inimitable Mr. Daftsios.

He has far fewer lines than the others, but what he does with his facial screw-ups and physical gestures as numerous characters and props themselves, is sheer friggin’ genius. Every now and then he gives stage direction as well or a sly aside to the audience. His version of lapdog, or stag head on a wall, or priapic English fountain, is priceless. I’d watch Mr. Daftsios read a Latin primer.

Enough with the adulation. Pay close attention and you can follow the plot in general—even if sometimes the story shifts are fill-in-the-blank, you bonehead.

But the humor is anything but subtle. It actually begins a few minutes before curtain time, at 8 p.m., bangs you over the brain smartly and never lets up until the stage goes dark.

Don’t blink. You will miss something if you do.

The American premiere of “Angry Young Man,” written by Ben Woolf and directed by Stephen Hamilton, is offered in association with Urban Stages and producer Ellen Myers. The play continues through Sunday, June 18, at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton. Shows are at 8 p.m. except Saturday June 10, when a special benefit performance for Urban Stages begins at 7 p.m. Seating is limited to 75. Tickets are $35, $15 for students. Visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-4050.

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